Rice cooking competition – where traditional values spread

Villagers compete to cook rice in pots on boats

One of the meaningful activity in Vietnamese Tet festivals is Rice cooking competition. A rice cooking competition is held to encourage women to take more responsibility in their traditional work.

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When is Rice cooking competition held?

During Tet holiday, a number of villages in northern and central Vietnam hold a Rice cooking competition that may sound simple, but follows strict and complex rules. Contestants cook in the open air while in a bamboo boat floating on the village pond. Charcoal, the usual fuel, is prohibited. Instead, each competitor receives some dried sugar cane, which burns only with difficulty. The challenge increases if it is windy and raining. Each contestant must set her rice pot in exactly the right place to take advantage of the wind and avoid extinguishing the fire.

Teams of villagers attempt to extinguish the fires used by their opponents to cook rice in pots on boats along a river

Rice cooking competition begins precisely at dawn. Hundreds of boats are tied up along the pond bank since as many as 200 young women may participate. After a salvo of drumbeats, competitors step into their boats, bringing along cooking tripods, rice pots, some damp straw and fuel. They row to the centre of the pond, make a fire and wash the rice.

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How is Rice cooking competition conducted?

A second salvo of drumbeats sounds, punctuated by three final beats, the Rice cooking competition starts. The cooking may be done in one pot after another or by using all pots al the same time. The tiny, light boat sways with the competitor’s every movement, keeping the craft stable while cooking is like performing a circus act. The competitor who finishes first wins, but quality also counts. People from many villages watch from the pond bank, mothers who have trained their girls for months impatiently wait for the results of their efforts. Other women take advantage of the occasion to look for prospective daughters-in-law who are both good cooks and can also face difficulties with calmness.

Rice cooking competition – where traditional values spread

The Rice cooking competition for boys is no less rigorous. Each boy must stand ready with all the necessary items (rice, water, matches and firewood) on a light boat moored the pond bank. At a given signal he paddles with his hands to the opposite bank, where a row of pots is placed on tripods. He must stay in his unmoored boat while cooking the rice on the bank. The least loss of balance tosses him over into the water.

The finished rice must meet particular criteria of taste and consistency.


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